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Pt. 3, Fostering a Global Vision

Donald B. Holsinger


When Donald B. Holsinger became director of the Kennedy Center in 1997, he brought with him a wealth of experience. Holsinger received a BA in Hispanic American studies, with an emphasis in Portuguese and Spanish, from BYU. He continued that Hispanic focus at the University of Wisconsin, where he received an MAin Latin American studies and an MS in rural sociology. Holsinger culminated his education at Stanford University with a PhD in international and comparative education and the sociology of education. Special expertise in international development and international education was refined by Holsinger’s work experience.

Though Holsinger had extensive teaching opportunities at the University of Chicago, the University of Arizona (Tucson), State University of New York (Albany), and BYU, his work extends beyond the academic world. Holsinger worked as an education specialist for the World Bank for over ten years researching to improve educational systems in developing countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Jamaica, Brazil, Ukraine, Russia, Ghana, Thailand, Mozambique, Angola, Indonesia, and, most recently, Vietnam.

Holsinger’s international outlook certainly aided his role as Kennedy Center director. He worked to continue keeping BYU and the Kennedy Center actively involved internationally.

Since leaving the center, Holsinger returned to his focus on world educational programs. He is currently working with the Vietnamese government to expand and enhance the educational services of the Ministry of Education and Technology. In 2002, Holsinger was named president-elect of the Comparative and International Development Education Society, which will hold their 2004 annual conference in Salt Lake City. His expertise and advice continues to strengthen education around the world.

What is your favorite memory from your years as director?

Within my first month of taking up the new position, I was invited to my first meeting with the Dean’s Council. My friend from earlier Washington, D.C., days and fellow Brazilian returned missionary, Bruce L. Christensen, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, motioned to me to sit next to him. As I sat there during that first meeting, a feeling of anticipation and gratitude overcame me. I realized, of course, that whatever had led to this moment was not of my doing but rather something earned through the hard work and personal sacrifice of several predecessors.

What was your vision for the center during your tenure as director?

Even while yet in Ethiopia and after my appointment as director had been finalized, it was clear to me that the advancement of international studies at BYU would depend upon strengthening the fundamental academic underpinnings of our courses and the degree programs on which they were based. This would mean examining the IAS curriculum with an eye to elevating it to national prominence, strengthening faculty commitment to IAS courses and the traditional disciplinary/departmental courses on which our degrees depended, establishing a small core faculty at the center itself, and developing an identity in the minds of our growing student numbers for the Kennedy Center as their academic home. I recognized that these steps would require our own advisement center, our own convocation exercise, and a much stronger budgetary position within the university community, commensurate with our new independent status. I had no illusion that this would be easy to accomplish. But, given the mandate I had received from the president and academic vice president, the strong support of the new associate academic vice president for international affairs, and the appointment of a highly qualified and energetic associate director at the center, I sincerely believed that we could succeed. I knew that we would have to become more aggressive in the raising of monies both on our own initiative and through the university’s development officers. The ultimate beneficiaries, of course, would be BYU students who, prepared more broadly than theretofore possible in a traditional international relations program, would have access to a dynamic and changing market for professionals with broad liberal arts and international university backgrounds.

Who inspired or supported you most while director of the center?

In addition to my wife, Ellen, inspiration came from a variety of places and support from still others. Bruce Christensen, who nominated me for the position of director, was always supportive. So, too, was R. Kent Crookston of the College of Biology and Agriculture. All three of us had come to our BYU positions directly from the outside. Ray Hillam and Lanny Britsch were good sources of support, although their vision for what the center might become had been different from mine. Cheryl Brown, linguistics professor and the newly appointed associate academic vice president, took up our cause with the administration. Cheryl and I didn’t agree on everything, but we saw the future of the center in much the same way; perhaps for that reason she was an effective advocate of my vision. I felt strong support from the center’s staff, especially from Rod and Jeff. Phil Bryson, who was my personal choice for the important task of overseeing the quality of our academic programs, was also loyal and supportive to his last day. Valerie Hudson, the director of our graduate program, was a passionate supporter and was, like me, a person fully capable of indulging in dreaming a new and better future for the center.

What do you feel was your greatest accomplishment for the center?

My greatest accomplishment was also my greatest failure. I demonstrated that the center could become a viable, independent college. We could handle our own advisement center, have our own Internet server, manage our own accounts, and design and implement an undergraduate curriculum that withstood outside scrutiny. Our programs enjoyed high student demand, and we graduated our students in a high quality convocation service. We managed to get two additional FTE and the promise of three more. We integrated Study Abroad into the mainstream of the center, added a new International Volunteers program, and strengthened our ties to supporting departments. We licensed the commercial part of us, CultureGrams, while retaining important intellectual and financial ties. We were on our way.

What would you have liked to accomplish but didn’t?

I will admit forthrightly that I did not succeed in the end. We didn’t move forward, but we didn’t succumb either.

How did your academic/professional background affect or influence your role as director?

My background was complex and never well understood. Because I came from the World Bank directly to BYU, most people assumed that I was a private-sector business person. The World Bank itself is poorly understood on campus, and this carried over to how people looked at me. The truth is that the bank is one of the premier research organizations in the world. Moreover, I had not only come from the research part of the bank but was also in charge of the secondary education policy research program. Because of the time I had been at the bank, people tended to forget my Stanford University, University of Chicago, and State University of New York academic past. That isn’t all bad, as sometimes not being understood can work to one’s advantage.

Despite its size, the World Bank is capable of moving at a pace that would leave most university-based academics spinning in dizzy astonishment. I was accustomed to rapidly moving things up through a complex bureaucracy. Contrary to the often uninformed views of many students and even faculty and staff at BYU, the World Bank is a supremely technical organization that judges proposals on their technical merit. Tradition, internal power plays, and the views of an inaccessible board typically have little effect on the ultimate outcome. What can be demonstrated to be in the interest of the bank and its borrowers (clients) was generally enacted and swiftly implemented. I tried to make decisions at the center in that same spirit. Ideas that made sense to me, I approved on the spot. If I wasn’t persuaded, I didn’t move. But I didn’t find the same to be true up the line. Transparency was not a dependable operational procedure. In this sense, my background at the bank was not a good preparation for my experience as director.

Where do you hope to see the center’s future involvement on campus or in the world?

When the Law School was proposed, I recall reading the argument that it was a good investment because its graduates would become a bulwark against those opposed to the truth, opposed to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and opposed to freedom of religious practice.

The world offers a multitude of opportunities for those who are able to respond to its many challenges and understand its complex intersections. Economic relations have in many cases replaced traditional political relations. Kennedy Center graduates have had an impact in a small way in a number of hot spots around the world, but many more men and women of high principles and sound thinking are needed in government service and the major multilateral development institutions.

The world still suffers from intense and cruel poverty, the solution for which seems surprisingly out of easy reach. BYU has a comparative advantage here but fails to exploit it—other than in respect to the private sector, where our Marriott School is a shining example of what we can do when we put our corporate heart to the task. BYU graduates simply are not players in the development arena. Our alumni are not proportionately represented among the ranks of the U.S. State Department. We could do so much more. But more importantly, we should do much more, and I still hope to see that day come.

Did your experiences at the center affect your worldview? If so, how?

I came to the center with a lot of international or world experience and an interdisciplinary academic background. So, in the sense of enlarging my understanding of the world, the answer is “no,” the center did not have that effect on me. The possible lone exception would be the extraordinary number of fairly senior diplomats who gave speeches at the center and with whom I had the privilege of a brief association. I learned from that experience and enjoyed it.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while director of the center?

There were several big surprises. First, and I suppose the most important, was that the mandate given to me by President Bateman was not understood in the same way by other senior BYU administration. Second, I was surprised at how vast and well organized our overseas study programs were. Third, I was surprised at the extreme measures required of us in order to maintain our programs. It is worth emphasizing that I was not at all surprised at how much I enjoyed being director and generally associating with the center and its many employees. They were in the main very good years.

In what way do you feel your time as director fulfilled David M. Kennedy’s vision for the center?

Although the exact number would have to be confirmed elsewhere, I would estimate that approximately one thousand students graduated with degrees in international or area studies during my period of service to the Kennedy Center. There is a symbolic difference here that distinguishes this process from what had gone on before and what has happened since. There were perhaps one or two substantive improvements as well. To confer degrees upon students is the highest and most significant academic act universities perform. David Kennedy wanted that act to take place through the center. He hoped to see the Kennedy Center become a place of learning, not merely a coordinator of learning. He wanted to see scholars in residence in the center, courses offered in and by the center, and ultimately degrees conferred upon successful students. For the first three years of my tenure at the center, we found, I believe, that rarest, thinnest, and most cherished middle road, the space between unloving critics and uncritical lovers. We worked with a large and dedicated group of faculty committed to the improvement of the center’s academic course offerings, while at the same time committed to the idea of an independent, academic center for international studies. I think David Kennedy would have been pleased.

Jeffrey F. Ringer


In 2002, Jeff Ringer was appointed director of the Kennedy Center for International Studies. His previous experiences with the center made him the ideal candidate to continue pursuing David M. Kennedy’s ideals. More than any other director, Ringer’s career has focused around the Kennedy Center. After receiving a BA in political science from BYU in 1984, Ringer continued his studies at the Kennedy Center. In 1986, he earned an MA in international relations. Ringer then left BYU to do doctoral studies at the University of Colorado (1989, ABD). However, he was soon invited back to BYU to work as a visiting instructor of political science. During this time, Ringer had the opportunity to direct the BYU Washington seminar program. Ringer’s studies and activities provided a strong foundation for his main academic interests: U.S. foreign policy and Asian politics. Since coming to BYU, Ringer has taught courses on these subjects, as well as on U.S.–Asian relations. In 1992, Ringer joined Kennedy Center administration as an assistant director under Lanier Britsch and became associate director under Donald Holsinger. Ringer’s responsibilities included personnel, finances, and management of special programs, including the China Teachers Program, the International Forum Series, and the center’s publications efforts. Ringer’s familiarity with the operations and goals of the Kennedy Center prepared him well for his work as director. His long association with the center has given him the experience to learn from those who have gone before him and the vision to continue refining and improving the center’s operations.

What is your favorite memory since becoming director?

This question is a little difficult for me since I’m in the middle of it and don’t have the benefit of perspective and reflection. If I expand the question a bit to include the time I’ve been here as associate director, my favorite memories probably revolve around the visitors hosted at the Kennedy Center. One of the best things about being here is the constant flow of fascinating people we host. Having the chance to spend some time listening to their ideas, coupled with the chance to introduce BYU to them—many for the first time—have probably been my best memories.

What has been your vision for the center thus far?

The biggest challenge for my first year was to reestablish our hosted academic programs on a strong foundation. That included creating an appropriate compensation package for program coordinators and reengaging the academic deans and their faculty in the program offerings.

Who inspired or supported you most while director of the center?

I’ve had excellent support from too many people to name, so let me address the inspiration part. For me, Ray Hillam is a constant source of inspiration. His continuing interest in the Kennedy Center and passion for its possibilities make me want to do the best job I can possibly do as director.

What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment for the center?

The development of positive relationships with major campus partners like the College of Humanities and the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

What would you like to accomplish but haven’t?

I want to make the Kennedy Center a world-class research and conference institution, known for supporting quality research and hosting major conferences.

How has your academic/professional background affected or influenced your role as director?

My background in political science has sensitized me to the contributions that our colleagues in departments and colleges around campus make to the academic programs we host here.

Where do you hope to see the center’s future involvement on campus or in the world?

I would like the Kennedy Center to be viewed by faculty as a place that enriches their professional lives and by students as a place that makes their campus experience broader and more full.

Have your experiences at the center affected your worldview? If so, how?

I’m constantly reminded that we don’t have all the answers. We can learn a great deal from our colleagues around the globe.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned since becoming director of the center?

I’ve learned that almost everyone on campus is involved in some kind of international work. The Kennedy Center must find ways to be supportive of those efforts.

In what way do you feel your time as director has fulfilled David M. Kennedy’s vision for the center?

I’m still working on it, but I feel strongly that we must have broader visibility for the Kennedy Center and a better outreach to faculty. By doing so, this center can be the kind of global leader in international studies that David Kennedy envisioned.

See Pt 1 and Pt 2 for more from this article.